The professor Jordan Peterson (who is controversial because of some of his views) said once that in order to discipline children you might hurt their feelings for a short period of time so that they can learn to behave properly in the median to long term so that their lives can go well.
When I was four years old, we lived in the Middle East in a villa complex. It was a large villa, with four separate flats surrounded by a wide walled yard. There was an iron gate leading from the yard into a garden filled with greenery and a large communal swimming pool. All of our neighbours were expatriates from the UK too, because we were all housed by the job the adults had (teaching English at a school for the children of royalty).
I remember playing with the neighbour’s kids outside one day, all of us on our tricycles, when one of the neighbours stepped out of her front door, dressed to go out.
She was a nice enough woman, and fast friends with my mother, and she smiled at us as she walked past. As she reached the main gate leading to the street, I called out impulsively, ‘Where are you going!?’
She turned, as her husband followed her, and said curtly, ‘None of your business.’
I remember feeling like she had punched me in the stomach. I felt so hurt, and engulfed in a feeling of intense shame. I flushed; the heat of it on that hot windy desert day made my skin prickle. I knew straightaway that I had done something horribly wrong. I wanted to cry but couldn’t do it in front of the neighbour’s kids, so I ran indoors and told my mum what happened.
‘Well, you shouldn’t be nosey,’ was my mother’s response. Standard. No-nonsense. As if it were the most natural thing in the world. She carried on doing what she had been doing.
I still remember that moment vividly, twelve years later. I still feel the shame of it. I still feel the heat of my flush, and the firm and frightened resolution to never ask anybody anything ‘nosey’ ever again.
It’s trivial to recall this as an adult, most people would just move on, I guess. But even now as a grown ass woman, I cannot ask anybody too many questions out of a genuine fear of being perceived as nosey.
So, I guess Jordan Peterson is right. It works.